New Durham Bull Hideki Matsui prepares for a pitch.

DURHAM BULLS ATHLETIC PARK There’s plenty of excitement around the Durham Bulls as they return home from a decent road trip and will now be starring a celebrity guest of sorts.

Joining the Bulls on a minor-league contract with the Tampa Bay Rays and batting cleanup is Hideki Matsui, trying to make his way back to the big leagues after failing to get a contract following a .251-12-72 season with Oakland in 2011. The former Yankee and Yomiuri Giant will be playing his sixth regular-season minor-league game.

Matsui’s appearance is the first of several established major leaguers scheduled to appear here during the series with the Pawtucket Red Sox. Third baseman Kevin Youkilis is set to join the PawSox on a rehab assignment beginning Wednesday, while Daisuke Matsuzaka will start on the mound for Pawtucket on Thursday.

About 35 Japanese media are credentialed to follow Matsui’s tenure in Durham, and that number is expected to swell past 50 when Matsuzaka makes his start on Thursday.

The Bulls are coming off a decent road trip, having won three of four in Rochester over the itinerant Empire State Yankees after going 1-3 at Syracuse.

Durham is in an uncharacteristic last place in the International League’s South Division. The Bulls come into the game with a 10-7 home record, but are 0-4 against the PawSox.

Matt Torra (2-4, 5.63) will go for the Bulls against Brandon Duckworth (4-0, 4.10).

Each hits two home runs but the visitors’ blasts come with guys on base, and Pawtucket takes the opener 8-2.

From the beginning it just doesn’t look like Torra’s night. Pawtucket takes a 3-0 lead with a two-out rally in the first, as Josh Kroeger follows a walk and a hit batsman by launching a 2-2 pitch high into the Diamond View seats in right.

And the PawSox add some more in the second, as Jose Iglesias launches a one-out 1-1 offering over the Blue Monster wall in left to make it 5-0.

The Bulls respond with some thunder in the fourth. Local boy Matt Mangini blasts the first pitch of the inning into the Diamond View seats, and Matsui comes up about five feet short of a homer in the same area with Lin Che-Hsuan making the catch at the wall. Leslie Anderson does make it 5-2 when he rips his first two-out pitch into the Diamond View seats.

Pawtucket makes it 6-2 with two out in the fifth when Lin’s single scores Kroger from second and that’s all for Torra. And it goes to 8-2 in the ninth on a one-out, two-run double from Ryan Lavarnway.

Duckworth lasts six innings and allows two runs on six hits, striking out four without a walk. Torra goes 4 2/3 innings, allowing six runs on eight hits with four strikeouts against three walks.

Kroeger leads Pawtucket with a homer and a double for three RBI, while Iglesias adds three hits and two RBI in the PawSox’ 12-hit attack.

Apex and N.C. State alum Matt Mangini homers and singles for Durham.

They said it …
Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo: “When (Matsui) took infield with us today I thought that was awesome, with what he has done in Japan and in the big leagues. That showed me everything about what kind of guy he is. It’s wonderful to have a guy like that. I think what he’s trying to do is awesome. He’s trying to get back to the big leagues and help the Tampa Bay Rays, and we’re going to try to do everything we can to help him out.”

Matsui: “Really yesterday was the only day I haven’t done any baseball-related activity, so (rust) hasn’t been an issue. I’d like to join the Rays as soon as possible, but that all depends on what kind of results I put up down here. … It was a (1-1) cutter inside. It was a pretty decent at-bat. I got a little jammed on it.”

What does it all mean?
That Pawtucket continues to be the Bulls’ historic worst tormentors, and that Matsui will have to wait for another night to display some fireworks.

Stars of the game
1. Kroeger.
2. Iglesias.
3. Duckworth.

Play of the game
Kroeger’s homer.


Bulls: Lost 1.
Pawtucket: Won 1.

Season series

PawSox lead 5-0.

On deck
Bulls (Lance Pendleton 1-1, 4.15) vs. Pawtucket (Doug Mathis 2-2, 5.01), Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.